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Violett v. Dowden

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

July 26, 2019

CASEY DOWDEN, et al. Defendants


          Rebecca Grady Jennings, District Judge.

         Plaintiff Donald R. Violett, a prisoner incarcerated at the Kentucky State Reformatory (KSR), filed the instant pro se action. This matter is before the Court on two motions for sanctions filed by Plaintiff (DNs 109 and 113).

         By prior Memorandum Opinion and Order (DN 100), the Court granted in part Plaintiff's motion to “preserve” evidence and ordered Defendants Casey Dowden, John Hall, Teresa Turner, Christopher Lefebvre, Jeffrey Royalty, and Anna Valentine (the “KSR Defendants”) to produce photographs and measurements of a gate which Plaintiff stated that KSR was about to destroy. The KSR Defendants have produced two sets of photos in response to the Order (DNs 105 and 107). The instant motions for sanctions stem principally from the photographs and measurements produced by the KSR Defendants in response to the Order.

         In the first motion for sanctions (DN 109), captioned “Objections to Defendants' Second Set of Photographs and Rule 11 Motion for Sanctions, ” Plaintiff states that he objects to the second set of photographs and measurements by the KSR Defendants on the basis that Defendant Royalty took the measurements and that Plaintiff was not permitted “to be present to require Defendant Royalty use the measuring tape correctly.” Plaintiff states, “Defendants' photographs and measurements only shows a portion of RHU-5-right gates that goes into shower. Defendants' counsel admits no photographs or measurements were done to gate where correctional officers and inmates enter into RHU-5-right.” Plaintiff maintains that this is an “act of deception” which has cost him “additional expenses and labor having to pump a wheelchair over ¼ mile to the legal office to type pleadings and have copies made[.]” Plaintiff states that Fed.R.Civ.P. 11 permits sanctions to be awarded in his favor and asks the Court to sanction “opposing counsel at a rate of $5, 000.00 for past deceptions and future deceptions.”

         In Plaintiff's second motion for sanctions (DN 113), Plaintiff states, “Defendants' trained attorney submitted photographs of a cell door to RHU-5-right-1 to[] mislead the Federal Court. Mr. Violett objected, leading to the Federal Judge viewing frivolous evidence.” He continues, “Defendants, through conspiracy to play games with the Federal Judge and Mr. Violett, submitted photographs and measurements of a gate leading to RHU-5-right shower. Fraud, deception and, corruption, perpetrated upon the Federal Judge.” Plaintiff further asserts that Defendants' counsel “will not submit photographs and measurements of the ‘gate' where correctional staff and inmates enter RHU-5-right. Mr. Violett asserts the widest part of the walker is the distance between the wheels and the Defendants will not confess the wheels of a walker will not go through the gate entering RHU-5-right.”

         In response to the motions for sanctions, the KSR Defendants respond that the photographs and measurements taken of RHU-5-right were of “the portion the Plaintiff keeps complaining about, when recounting the difficulty of walking to the shower.” Referring to Plaintiff's motion to preserve evidence (DN 91) and his reply (DN 97), Defendants state, “[T]he Plaintiff asked for photographic evidence to ‘preserve' a single gate that he has complained about as not being wide enough for his walker, specifically when going to the shower. . . . Now it appears that the Plaintiff is complaining that every entrance to the RHU must accommodate his walker.” Defendants argue that Plaintiff's complaints about the measurements taken amount to “mere speculation that Defendant Royalty may not have ‘use[d] the measuring tape correctly[.].'”

         Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides as follows:

By presenting to the court a pleading, written motion, or other paper-whether by signing, filing, submitting, or later advocating it-an attorney or unrepresented party certifies that to the best of the person's knowledge, information, and belief, formed after an inquiry reasonable under the circumstances:
(1) it is not being presented for any improper purpose, such as to harass, cause unnecessary delay, or needlessly increase the cost of litigation;
(2) the claims, defenses, and other legal contentions are warranted by existing law or by a nonfrivolous argument for extending, modifying, or reversing existing law or for establishing new law . . . .

Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(b). Rule 11 further provides that the court may impose “an appropriate sanction on any attorney, law firm, or party that violated the rule or is responsible for the violation.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(c)(1). The sanction “must be limited to what suffices to deter repetition of the conduct or comparable conduct by others similarly situated.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(c)(4). “The test for the imposition of Rule 11 sanctions is whether the individual's conduct was reasonable under the circumstances.” Tropf v. Fid. Nat'l Title Ins. Co., 289 F.3d 929, 939 (6th Cir. 2002) (citations omitted). “A good faith belief in the merits of a case is insufficient to avoid sanctions.” Tahfs v. Proctor, 316 F.3d 584, 594 (6th Cir. 2003).

         Rule 11 requires a party seeking sanctions to file a motion for sanctions separate from other motions or requests and to describe the specific conduct that allegedly violates Rule 11(b). See Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(c)(2); Ridder v. City of Springfield, 109 F.3d 288, 294 (6th Cir. 1997). It further requires the party seeking sanctions to first serve the motion on the opposing party at least 21 days prior to filing it with the Court. Id. This two-step procedural requirement, referred to as the Safe Harbor Provision, is as follows:

“intended to provide a type of ‘safe harbor' against motions under Rule 11 in that a party will not be subject to sanctions on the basis of another party's motion unless, after receiving the motion, it refuses to withdraw that position or to acknowledge candidly that it does not currently have evidence to support a specified allegation . . . . [T]he timely withdrawal of a contention will protect a party against a motion for sanctions.”

Ridder, 109 F.3d at 294 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 11 Advisory Committee Notes (1993 Amendments)). The Sixth Circuit “has expressly ruled that Rule 11 is unavailable where the moving party fails to serve a timely ‘safe harbor' letter.” First Bank of Marietta v. HartfordUnderwriters Ins. Co., 307 ...

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